by Noel Ward, Executive Editor July 7, 2003 -- I'm not a baseball fan. Other than a few obvious ones, I couldn't match 6 teams and their cities to save my life. So I was surprised when I laughed my way through the keynote speech at opening day of Océ Printing Systems USA's Summer Road Show that's traveling under the theme of Major League Performance and providing a detailed look at the company's new VarioPrint family of production-class printers. Keys to Success The keynote was packed with some funny "inside stories" of major league baseball, told by former New York Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton. The man once known for "throwing smoke" regaled an audience of largely corporate print services providers with tales of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and other baseball greats while making the point that flexibility, versatility and adaptability were among the keys to his success on the pitcher's mound--and in life. Best Practices Following up on those traits were some of the "best practices" examples given by Rab Govil, President of PODi who noted transactional billing is becoming a vital means of customer communications. On average, consumers look at a bill for about 50 seconds, compared to about 10 seconds for a typical direct mail offer. That closer attention makes transactional bills an ideal place for highly targeted marketing messages. This is especially true, said Govil, if the messages are relevant to the customer, perhaps based on well-defined profiles, purchase patterns and other characteristics. He cited an example of how a CFO of a pharmaceutical company might well tune out a generic message about lowering rental car costs for his firm, but one specifically highlighting the savings for a pharmaceutical firm would likely generate a far better response. From left: Bruce Ganger (Director Business Development, Oce), Rab Govil (President PODi), Carl Joachim (VP Marketing, Oce) Govil described how a large service bureau redesigned a financial services customer's statement to make it more personalized, easier to read, shorter, and more action-oriented--with opportunities to take advantage of new investments. He cited other examples, all demanding different printing capabilities and software, but providing genuine revenue advantages. Govil said PODi studies have found putting marketing messages in statements was usually cost-neutral while yielding 20 to 30 percent better response rates and 65 percent faster response times than traditional direct mail. But many print providers are finding the monochrome print engines used for most transactional printing are not always up to the changing demands placed upon them. This compromises efficiency and increases labor and operating costs just business demands these costs decrease. The printing versatility and flexibility required on the kinds of jobs Govil described are the reason Océ has developed and introduced the VarioPrint line of printers. A Versatile Personality "VarioPrint has a personality that changes as your needs change," said Bruce Ganger, Director of New Business Development at Océ Printing Systems USA. "Print services providers are facing business changes brought on by the pressures of convergence and the need to do more with fewer print engines, less labor, reduced staff and often less floor space. These changes are forcing all types of print providers to adapt, yet much of the existing digital printing equipment presently in place lacks the flexibility and versatility needed for optimal operations." Such changes and challenges were no doubt familiar to the customers and prospects in attendance, representing insurance, financial services, public utility, and government organizations. Oce's Franck Nacca (Group Program Manager/Cut Sheet Products) describing the inner workings of the VarioPrint 5160 Versatility is key to the personality change. Océ says its new VarioPrint family can be scaled up to meet expanding operating requirements. For example, the 103-ppm VarioPrint 5115 which can be quickly upgraded to the 5160 (155-ppm) by changing the speed of the print engine and other operating parameters. The VarioPrint can accommodate up to 8 different paper stocks in 4 standard and 4 optional paper drawers. Other stocks, such as full-color covers, can be added via an interposer. On jobs requiring only a single paper stock, those 8 paper drawers can hold 10,400 pages, enough for about an hour of uninterrupted operation at full rated speed. The VarioPrint seems intended for such use, with a 5 million impression per month duty cycle, significantly higher than any other cut-sheet printer on the market. That's a lot of pages flowing through a machine and experienced machine operators would reasonably question how what such a volume means in terms of jam potential. Not much, if customer beta testing is any indication, related Frank Nacca, Group Program Manager for Cut Sheet Systems, who said there were only 4 paper jams in some 2.5 million impressions. Spot Color Options The ability to use any two-toner combination of plain black, MICR, and spot color toners; print on a wide selection of substrates, and provide several finishing options on one upgradable machine are among the advantages of the VarioPrint family. For example, a customer can start with a monochrome model, add spot color, and later add MICR toner capability based on customer requirements. All are these field upgrades, as are machine speed, adding additional paper drawers or finishing options. Oce's Bob Raus (Director of Industry Solutions) explaining how Oce's PRISMA software architecture enables VarioPrint to work in mixed environments. Spot color, which has had generally low adoption in the market due to limited color availability, may be a unique advantage for Océ, thanks to the broad palette of toner colors it offers. The company's well-established CustomTone program offers 120 colors and highly specific colors (think Coke Red or AT&T Blue) can be provided if needed. Changing colors on the machine is facilitated through Quick Change Developer Stations that make changing toner a five minute job. Océ sees spot color as important in transactional printing applications where some color is increasingly desired but full color remains too expensive, or where a company wants to reduce or eliminate pre-printed forms. Ganger also noted that one market for the VarioPrint is as a replacement for two-color offset presses in commercial print operations and franchised and quick print shops where spot color is a staple of daily operations. Simplified Workflow Architecture These days the software running the print engine can be a bigger part of a complete solution than the print engine. Océ, which has never developed a proprietary datastream or PDL of its own, has long been able to accommodate datastreams from IBM (AFP/IPDS) or Xerox (LCDS or Metacode). Its modular PRISMA print production architecture simplifies workflows and offers broad functionality in the mixed environment prevalent in many data centers, CRDs, and service bureaus. VarioPrint is of course designed to work with PRISMA and can take advantage of its many modules to provide a stable workflow for many applications. To Market To Market Ganger said Océ's go-to-market strategy entails a customer-centric focus on five industries: education, government, manufacturing, financial services and retail. He noted that stress in the economy and congruent emphasis on efficiency in business operations should make the capabilities of the VarioPrint a compelling solution. Along with the lowest Total Cost of Ownership and cost per page, and excellent ROI, it offers the versatility many customers need. Some of those are certainly existing customers--that's how this business works and why most machines are leased rather than bought. Others are businesses with older, competing machines looking for a way to respond to the pressures on their operations and bottom line and are seeking alternatives. Roadshow attendees inspect the new VarioPrint 5160 The VarioPrint family is just getting started. As it becomes more fully featured and more powerful over the next year or so, these machines have the potential to make a lot of waves in the market and are a welcome alternative to old generation machines that lack the flexibility and versatility needed today.